The National Hockey League (NHL; French: Ligue nationale de hockey—LNH) is a professional ice hockey league in North America, currently comprising 31 teams: 24 in the United States and 7 in Canada. The NHL is considered to be the premier professional ice hockey league in the world, and one of the major professional sports leagues in the United States and Canada. The Stanley Cup, the oldest professional sports trophy in North America, is awarded annually to the league playoff champion at the end of each season.
The National Hockey League was organized on November 26, 1917, at the Windsor Hotel in Montreal after the suspension of operations of its predecessor organization, the National Hockey Association (NHA), which had been founded in 1909 in Renfrew, Ontario. The NHL immediately took the NHA's place as one of the leagues that contested for the Stanley Cup in an annual interleague competition before a series of league mergers and folds left the NHL as the only league left competing for the Stanley Cup in 1926.
At its inception, the NHL had four teams—all in Canada, thus the adjective "National" in the league's name. The league expanded to the United States in 1924, when the Boston Bruins joined, and has since consisted of American and Canadian teams. From 1942 to 1967, the league had only six teams, collectively (if not contemporaneously) nicknamed the "Original Six". The NHL added six new teams to double its size at the 1967 NHL expansion. The league then increased to 18 teams in 1974 and 21 teams in 1979. In the 1990s, the NHL further expanded to 30 teams, and added its 31st team in 2017.
The league's headquarters have been in New York City since 1989 when the head office moved there from Montreal.After a labour-management dispute that led to the cancellation of the entire 2004–05 season, the league resumed play in 2005–06 under a new collective agreement that included a salary cap. In 2009, the NHL enjoyed record highs in terms of sponsorships, attendance, and television audiences.The International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) considers the Stanley Cup to be one of the "most important championships available to the sport". The NHL draws many highly skilled players from all over the world and currently has players from approximately 20 countries. Canadians have historically constituted the majority of the players in the league, with an increasing percentage of American and European players in recent seasons.
The NHL Entry Draft (French: Repêchage d'entrée dans la LNH) is an annual meeting in which every franchise of the National Hockey League (NHL) systematically select the rights to available ice hockey players who meet draft eligibility requirements (North American players 18–20 years old and European/international players 18–21 years old; all others enter league as unrestricted free agents). The NHL Entry Draft is held once every year, generally within two to three months after the conclusion of the previous season. During the draft, teams take turns selecting amateur players from junior or collegiate leagues and professional players from European leagues.
The first draft was held in 1963, and has been held every year since. The NHL Entry Draft was known as the NHL Amateur Draft until 1979. The entry draft has only been a public event since 1980, and a televised event since 1984. Up to 1994, the order was solely determined by the standings at the end of the regular season. In 1995, the NHL Draft Lottery was introduced where only teams who had missed the playoffs could participate. The one lottery winner would move up the draft order a maximum of four places, meaning only the top five-placed teams could pick first in the draft, and no team in the non-playoff group could move down more than one place. The chances of winning the lottery were weighted towards the teams at the bottom of the regular season standings. Beginning in 2013, the limit of moving up a maximum of four places in the draft order was eliminated, so the lottery winner would automatically receive the first overall pick, and any teams above it in the draft order would still move down one spot.
The Stanley Cup (French: La Coupe Stanley) is the championship trophy awarded annually to the National Hockey League (NHL) playoff winner. It is the oldest existing trophy to be awarded to a professional sports franchise, and the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) considers it to be one of the "most important championships available to the sport". Originally commissioned in 1892 as the Dominion Hockey Challenge Cup, the trophy is named after Lord Stanley of Preston, then–Governor General of Canada, who donated it as an award to Canada's top-ranking amateur ice hockey club, which the entire Stanley family supported, with the sons and daughters playing and promoting the game. The first Cup was awarded in 1893 to Montreal HC, and subsequent winners from 1893 to 1914 were determined by challenge games and league play. Professional teams first became eligible to challenge for the Stanley Cup in 1906. In 1915, the two professional ice hockey organizations, the National Hockey Association (NHA) and the Pacific Coast Hockey Association (PCHA), reached a gentlemen's agreement in which their respective champions would face each other annually for the Stanley Cup. After a series of league mergers and folds, it was established as the de facto championship trophy of the NHL in 1926 and then the de jure NHL championship prize in 1947.
There are actually three Stanley Cups: the original bowl of the "Dominion Hockey Challenge Cup", the authenticated "Presentation Cup", and the spelling corrected "Permanent Cup" on display at the Hockey Hall of Fame. The NHL has maintained effective control over both the trophy itself and its associated trademarks. Nevertheless, the NHL does not actually own the trophy, but instead uses it by agreement with the two Canadian Trustees of the Cup. The NHL has registered trademarks associated with the name and likeness of the Stanley Cup, although the league's right to outright own trademarks associated with a trophy it does not own has been disputed by some legal experts. The original bowl was made of silver and is 18.5 centimetres (7.28 inches) in height and 29 centimetres (11.42 inches) in diameter. The current Stanley Cup, topped with a copy of the original bowl, is made of a silver and nickel alloy; it has a height of 89.54 centimetres (35.25 inches) and weighs 15.5 kilograms (34.5 lb).Unlike the trophies awarded by the other major professional sports leagues of North America, a new Stanley Cup is not made each year. Originally, the winners kept it until a new champion was crowned. Currently, winning teams get the Stanley Cup during the summer and a limited number of days during the season. It is unusual among trophies to include winning members' names. Every year since 1924, a select portion of the winning players, coaches, management, and club staff names are engraved on its bands. However, there is not enough room to include all the players and non-players, so some names must be omitted. Between 1924 and 1940, a new band was added almost every year the trophy was awarded, earning the nickname "Stovepipe Cup" due to the unnatural height of all the bands. In 1947 the cup size was reduced, but not all the large rings were the same size. In 1958 the modern one-piece Cup was designed with a five-band barrel which could contain 13 winning teams per band. To prevent the Stanley Cup from growing, when the bottom band is full, the oldest band is removed and preserved in the Hockey Hall of Fame, and a new blank band added to the bottom. It has been referred to as The Cup, Lord Stanley's Cup, The Holy Grail, or facetiously (chiefly by sportswriters) as Lord Stanley's Mug. The Stanley Cup is surrounded by numerous legends and traditions, the oldest of which is the celebratory drinking of champagne out of the cup by the winning team.
Since the 1914–15 season, the Cup has been won a combined 101 times by 18 active NHL teams and five defunct teams. It was not awarded in 1919 because of a Spanish flu epidemic, and in 2005, as a consequence of the 2004–05 NHL lockout. During the challenge cup era from 1893 to 1914, the Cup was held by nine different teams. The Montreal Canadiens have won the Cup a record 24 times and are the most recent Canadian-based team to win the cup, having won it in 1993, while the Detroit Red Wings have won the Cup 11 times, the most of any United States-based NHL team, most recently in 2008.